Wanted: Hero. Cancer survivors need not apply.

by Karen on February 18, 2013

resume with "Cancer" written across it in pink marker

Don’t you just love how people admire cancer survivors? I’ve been called a hero and an inspiration and even a miracle, all because I got a disease and handled it pretty much the way most folks would. I’m not a hero. Honest.

Of course, it still makes me feel great when people say those things. But, imagine I need a new job. I wonder who’ll be calling me a hero then. Let’s face it; “cancer patient” or even “cancer survivor” isn’t something you want to put on your résumé.

The first time I experienced cancer, I was a young, stay-at-home mom. While I was working – very hard, I might add – 99 percent of my pay was in hugs and kisses. I was doing a bit of freelance writing, but just enough to maintain contacts and add a pittance to our income.

I wasn’t worried about explaining the résumé gap. After all, it was the mid ’90s, when jobs seemed plentiful. I had a college degree. I had experience. I didn’t expect to land my dream job after the kids grew up, but I was fairly certain I could find full-time work if I needed to.

Fast-forward a decade or two, and things don’t look quite so cheery. Making the decision to temporarily leave the workforce – for whatever reason – is scary. If you have to take time off because you have cancer, it’s scarier still.

In my case, as the kids got older, I began to work longer hours and take on more projects. Now that they’re in college, I’m working even more. Yes, I’ve dealt with cancer three times, but I’ve been just fine in between – as capable of working as I always was.

As a self-employed freelance writer, I have the luxury of setting my own schedule. I have long-time work relationships with kind, compassionate people, who have supported me through each cancer diagnosis. My clients – and my clients’ clients – have adjusted projects, changed deadlines and been generally wonderful each time the Big C interrupted my life.

But I’m also not the primary breadwinner in our family. In addition to providing most of our income, my husband’s job includes health insurance.

What if I needed a typical eight-to-five, benefits-included, job? What if I were a single mother or my husband were unemployed? It’s a scary thought for me, but I know it’s the reality for thousands of breast cancer patients.

So, how do you deal with gaps in your résumé because of cancer treatment? If you continue to work, how much do you tell your employer and coworkers? What are your legal rights when it comes to employment and insurance?

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, it’s important to consider those questions.

A great place to start is Cancer and Careers, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering and educating people with cancer to thrive in the workplace. Check out their website for tips on looking for – as well as keeping – your job after a cancer diagnosis. There’s information about legal rights, health insurance, financial assistance, support groups and much more. If you have a question, you can Ask a Career Coach. An expert will even review your résumé for you.

Have you had to search for a job after a cancer diagnosis? Please share your challenges and successes with us.

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